Invasive plant stealing water, hurting ecosystem in upper basin

Invasive plant stealing water, hurting ecosystem in upper basin

Efforts are ongoing to tackle an invasive plant in the upper basin of the Brazos River and across millions of acres of Texas, negatively affecting our waterway and wildlife.

Saltcedar, a plant native to the Middle East and Asia, has infested more than two million acres in the Southwest United States, including over half a million acres in Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.


The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is working with landowners in an effort to tackle the invasion of Saltcedar, which grows in dense thickets across river floodplains and can consume large quantities of water and reduce water availability.

“Saltcedars consume a lot of water in a dry area where evaporation is already very high,” said Tiffany Morgan, Brazos River Authority environmental and compliance manager. “The upper basin definitely has the strongest prevalence of it. We have found some occasionally between Possum Kingdom Lake and Lake Granbury, but not in thickets like in the upper basin, at least not yet. Anywhere in the upper basin where native, riparian vegetation has been cleared the Saltcedar has taken over.”

Saltcedar, in contrast to mesquite and other nuisance brush species, displaces native plants and degrades habitat for wildlife. A thicket of Saltcedar can trap sediment and even alter the shape of the river channel.

The plant is so bad, the department refers to it as a “game-changer,” not only for riparian habitats, ground-nesting birds including turkey and quail, but also for the aquatic community, which needs specific habitat requirements.

Texas Parks & Wildlife sprayed Brazos River Authority property near the Possum Kingdom Lake area this week.

More and more landowners upstream continue to sign up with the TPWD to allow treatment to occur on their property, according to the department.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is using a helicopter-based treatment using aquatic-approved imazapyr to manage the Saltcedar.

“Imazapyr is a systemic herbicide that attacks production of an essential enzyme that animals don’t possess, so they’re not affected,” according to the department. “Pilots will take care to avoid all cottonwoods, leaving approximately a 20-foot buffer around them, and will avoid other large trees and non-target plants such as willows or plums as much as possible.”

The hope is the targeted approach will help restore the habitat for fish and wildlife species.

Saltcedar plants are spreading shrubs, or small trees, five to 20-feet tall with numerous slender branches and pale, pink to white flowers, according to TexasInvasives.org. Long tap roots allow them to intercept deep water tables and interfere with natural aquatic systems, monopolizing limited sources of moisture, according to the organization.


And each flower can produce thousands of tiny seeds. Seeds are carried by the wind and can germinate within 24 hours of detecting moisture, according to the Texas Invasive Species Institute. The plant can then grow one foot per month during the spring.

This particular project began in 2015, when the department began working with landowners and project partners including Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Divisions, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners in Fish and Wildlife Program, University of Texas – Bureau of Economic Geology, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, and Texas Tech University.

Since 2016, 10,400 acres of invasive Saltcedar have been treated on ranches along more than 260 river miles in the upper Brazos River basin, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Tackling the invasive species will absolutely take a team effort, Morgan said.

“It’s so pervasive in the upper basin right now. We hope that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department project will be successful in eradicating the plant, but the area will probably always require some maintenance to keep Saltcedar at bay,” Morgan said. “

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has recommended ways for landowners and homeowners to put a halt to Saltcedar. Those can be viewed here. Though it notes, controlling Saltcedar is not a one-time job.

To learn more, go here.